How Women’s Circles can help you Manage Guilt

By Katie Carswell, Women’s Circle Holder, Mindfulness Life Coach, Reiki Healer, member of The Circle School Grove

Guilt. A small word that casts a large shadow.

Guilt is pervasive and insidious in can also be the master of disguise.Hidden in our sense of duty and obligation.

Guilt can keep you stuck, stop you from progressing, from doing things that you love or that you know will make you feel better.

We rationalise our guilt away as having no choice, it’s part of our human condition. 

Guilt can sit alongside people pleasing, loose boundaries and lack of self care/worth. 

Guilt is such a part of our everyday lives, many of us just live in a permanent state of feeling guilty – 

Guilty of having our own needs

Guilty for wanting time for ourselves

Guilty for asking for what we want

Guilty for taking time out for us

And more often than not, that sense of guilt is so huge, we let it win, even if it’s totally unfounded. 

But I wanted to write to you today about the fact that you have a choice and guilt is just a state of mind.

At the end of last year I sat in Circle with my gorgeous mentor Mitlé and other Circle holders, reflecting on our life and work during 2022, looking at things we might want to release as we move towards 2023.

For me it became clear that as a holder of many spaces, in work and life, for many people, I am rarely held myself. So I made the commitment to change that this coming year, to practise what I preach and fully embody my own beliefs about the power and medicine that can be found in Circle ~ but this time for me.

As it often goes in life, I went from making this beautifully empowered decision and gorgeous plans of how I would gracefully ease into 2023, fully embodying all the magic and wisdom of the practices I teach…to it being much different.

Life threw me a curve ball. 

A beautiful, fertile, nurturing one, but a giant one all the same. 

A large puppy bomb went off in our lives. Our beautiful Beddy Whippet, Daphne, had 10 pups on the first day of the school Christmas holidays. From 3.30am we sat with Daphne, as she started labour, watching her pace and 9.30am on Saturday 17th December the first little bundle of fluff eased his way into the world, with one pup following every half hour after that. 

It was both magical and humbling to witness our dogs’ natural instincts and know exactly what she needed to do. My husband and I had very little input but were on hand just in case help was needed. Two sadly didn’t survive, even with our attempts to save them but Daphne was an awe inspiring mum, birthing and feeding just as nature intended.

Christmas was quiet and not as we had planned but with a house full of pups our daughter was more than happy. And mum was doing brilliantly..but I had an inkling this might be the calm before the storm! On New Year’s Day we ALL ended up in the vets, mum with mastitis, we were told she needed time off from all feeding in order to heal, meaning my husband and I were now taking on that role. Since then we have fed 8 pups every 4-6 hours, day and night. It’s taken us back to when our own daughter was a newborn. The house has turned into a giant kennel. If we are not preparing to feed, feeding or cleaning up from a feed, we are washing and drying bedding and all of the other areas of care I had no idea would be needed.

All of this is just to give you a little insight into my world at the moment, life was full before, now it’s 8 times fuller.

We have all been in this situation, well perhaps not this situation, but a curveball one. 

Your own particular type of bomb. 

An illness, an accident, an unexpected life event.. but even without a monumental thing happening, how often do you find yourself prioritising other people / things before yourself?

 Life is busy for all of us and so many of us find ourselves prioritising others needs before our own, often through necessity but also because we don’t know any other way. It feels selfish not to.

All of a sudden the promise I made myself for 2023 didn’t just seem like an impossibility but one that I would be completely selfish to consider right now. 

This Sunday I had a chance to go to a Circle. My internal dialogue about whether I could or couldn’t, should or shouldn’t, was exhausting in itself. I noticed how, not being able to come to the decision myself, I reverted to asking my husband for permission, not that he ever asks me to or expects it, that’s purely my own thing. I knew he would say yes, in a way I couldn’t say yes to myself…why…GUILT.

There was too much to do

It was my duty to be here

What about time with my daughter

There are 4 piles of laundry to put away and another 4 lots to do

What about the puppies, will I be back in time to feed them

Is it bad if I leave my husband here whilst I take some time out

I’m holding my own Circles next week, will my family think I am always out of the house

And on and on it went. 

I almost didn’t go..mixed with a tired mind, the voice of guilt was almost overwhelming, luckily I have worked with her for many years and could recognise her for what she is.

So I tuned my head out and dropped into my heart..and what did my heart say…

It’s just a couple of hours Kate

Everyone will manage without you

You’ll feel better and be a better human to be around for taking some time out

The washing can wait.

You are not a bad mother if you take some time out for yourself.

And so I went to Circle and I am so glad I did ~ as I always am.

The Circle will always offer you what you need at that moment. 

For me I needed some time out, space to reflect and tune in. To stop the perpetual to do list and just be for a few hours. What felt self indulgent was so needed. 

Rather than pushing on through, I stepped back into my home just a couple hours later feeling like a totally different person, having charged up my batteries, filled up my own cup, so I was in a better space to pour all of the love, attention and care that the other areas of my life needed.

Not from a place of depletion but from a place of joy and gratitude. 

That’s the power of Circle, of time and space alone, it gifts you reconnection to you. 

So you can feel more balanced and then operate from that place, not from one where you feel so far down the pecking order in your own life, you are not sure if you are coming or going.

I know guilt, I understand her. Most of us have been raised in a culture that uses guilt and obligation as a method of control, so much so we don’t even stop to question why we are feeling it. We don’t pick it apart and see if it’s even ours or if it’s valid.

We are so caught up in the loop of guilt to even realise. Guilt keeps you stuck, repeating patterns of negative behaviour and thoughts.

If it’s something you struggle with too, next time you catch yourself feeling that familiar sensation, or listening to those thoughts swirling in your mind, I invite you to get curious for a moment..and ask yourself ~ Is this true? Is this mine? 

Then, acknowledge it but not let it stop you.

Quite often it’s just taking that first step, out of a comfort zone.


If you are feeling guilty this new year for taking time out for you, perhaps you have just had time off so taking more time for you might feel greedy, or perhaps it’s financial guilt about spending money on yourself…just know that the benefits of gifting yourself time and space for you have far reaching ripples, not just within your own life but of those who you love and those who witness you prioritising yourself..that is an inspiring thing to model to others, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

Remember filling your own cup first can only ever benefit others.

This was first published on Katie’s website where you can find out more about her work and her Circles. 

Guidance and Training as a Circle Holder

The Importance of Receiving Guidance and Training as a Circle Holder

Circles held by skilled and experienced Circle Holders offer powerful and transformative experiences for personal and community wellbeing. 

In my experience, holding circles can be an incredibly powerful way to connect with others, explore our shared experiences, and support one another on our journeys.

It is important to recognise that there are multiple facets to holding Circles; we are space holders, ceremonialists and facilitators (and more).

When I started holding circles I could find hardly any information about “how” to do it! A google search led me to a few short blog posts, but they weren’t really what I was after, and so I just began and learnt as I went. I have dedicated many hours (and money) to continually learning more about the origin, architecture and process of Circles, the systems they can function within and the communities they can serve.

I believe that holding circles is a calling for me, and I seem to have an innate capacity to do so (which has deepened and expanded over the years) and I also recognise that it would have been really helpful to have benefited from training when I began this journey.

Since 2018 I have been offering guidance and training to wellbeing practitioners, creatives and community organisers who feel the call to hold Circles, already have multiple modalities and skills to offer, and don’t want to spend years working out how to hold unique, transformative and inclusive circles.

By working with others, I have witnessed how guidance and training can support us in the art of holding space, teach us the craft of creating ceremony and enhance our Circle facilitation skills. The effect is to nourish our confidence as Circle Holders and nurture our willingness to show up and hold our Circles.

Here are a few reasons why guidance and training can be important:

  • Holding space requires a deep understanding of group dynamics and the ability to create a safe and inclusive environment. This is especially important when working with marginalised communities and those who may have experienced trauma or oppression.
  • Effective Circle Holders need to have a strong grounding in their own practices and rituals, as well as an ability to adapt to the needs of the group. This requires a deep level of self-reflection and an openness to learning from others.
  • In addition to the practical skills required to hold circles, training and guidance can also provide valuable support and mentorship. It can be difficult to navigate the challenges that can arise when holding space, and having a community of fellow Circle Holders can be incredibly helpful.
  • Holding circles that are inclusive and welcoming allows for a greater diversity of voices and perspectives to be heard, leading to more creative and transformative experiences for everyone involved. It is important to have guidance and training in how to hold circles which privileges diversity, equity, and inclusion.

By creating spaces that are truly welcoming and inclusive, we can support women and those marginalised by their identities, by providing a space for self-reflection, connection, and community building.

Ultimately, inclusive Circle Holding can be a powerful tool for creating a more equitable and just society.

By investing in our own growth and development as Circle Holders, we can create more meaningful and transformative experiences for ourselves and the communities we serve.

Through Circle School I offer self-led online courses and a membership for Circle Holders. These immersive experiences offer wellbeing practitioners, creatives and activists guidance and training to hold your own unique, powerful and transformative Circle experiences.

If you are seeking a practical and wholehearted circle training for rebellious facilitators, you can find out more about Circle School here and I invite you to join us in Circle Skills

*This is not a replacement for investing in anti-racism, accessibility and inclusivity training

Holding Space in Women’s Circles

In one of the best descriptions of holding space, Parker Palmer said:

“The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed – to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is.”

The question is, how do we do that?

What is holding space?

I describe holding space as an art, a craft and a skill. This is my attempt to capture the unique artistry of an individual meeting themselves or another in those moments of sweetness and sourness, in grief and gratitude or in joy and despair. It is my attempt to articulate that companioning oneself or others flows from crafting connection and trust. It is also my attempt to acknowledge that with willingness, practice and reflection we can learn the skills of a space holder such as deep and present listening.

Holding space for myself is a daily devotional practice. I weave it into my morning ritual, whilst I’m journaling, listening to River tell me his stories, walking in the woods and paddling in the river. I take my time to become fully present with myself and my surroundings before I write, sit with a client, start an interview or hold a circle. It is not a one-off act, but an ongoing tuning in, noticing and reflecting.

Holding space can be a complex process. It evolves as we practice it, and although the path may be unique to each person and each situation, in my experience there are repeating patterns of behaviour that show up for us as Space Holders.

I have loved exploring “archetypes” and seeking to understand those that are active in my life and work. In doing so I draw on Carl Jung’s definition of archetypes as images and themes that derive from the collective unconscious, together with the writing of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Sharon Blackie, Danielle Dulsky and Toko-pa Turner.*

In Belonging, Toko-pa Turner says

“In the act of connecting to archetypes we feel the spark of vitality, a hint of life, a tiny becoming. We begin to remember who we were before we fell under the enchantment. We trace back to our root purpose, when we were engaged and alive, when we were our best selves.”

Through my own exploration with archetypes and recognising these repeating patterns for Space Holders, I created a framework to help us deepen into our understanding of who we are as a Space Holder and to meet “our best selves” in this role.

This framework consists of 7-Space Holder Archetypes based on my experience of holding circles, the behaviours that I’ve witnessed in Circle and what Circle Holders have shared with me. I share this with the invitation to use this framework to support yourself and your work. These aren’t written in stone; they are breathable and changeable. Please use your discernment to adapt them to suit your needs rather than as labels. They are a tool in cultivating self-awareness and recognising patterns of behaviour in others.

Holding Space Archetypes

I offer these 7-archetypes with a Guardian and Shadow form. When we are responding from the Guardian form we are acting from our root purpose, from our best selves. Whereas when we are reacting from the Shadow form, we are coming from a part of ourselves that has been wounded or rejected. If we are aware of our behaviours we can identify whether we are acting from the healed, whole part of us or from the shadow aspect. It is important to remind ourselves that this shadow aspect is not “bad”, it is a part of us that is calling for loving attention and care.

The 7-archetypes in both forms are:

  • Maiden / Indulger
  • Mother / Fixer
  • Wild Woman / Avoider
  • Medicine Woman / Wounded Healer
  • Muse / Validator
  • Wise Woman / Adviser
  • Priestess / Saviour

You may find these descriptors self-evident and I hope they are helpful. In PRESENCE, my holding space immersion we explore these in detail through a guided process to identify which are currently active within you.

As we deepen our understanding of the Guardian form we can embody those qualities which support us to hold safer, compassionate and courageous spaces.

Those qualities include:

  • Maiden – supports us to demonstrate vulnerability and not be afraid for ourselves or others
  • Mother – has the capacity to see people’s magnificence
  • Wild Woman – can hold the tension of paradox
  • Medicine Woman – sees people as whole and guides them within for answers
  • Muse – is compassionate without offering platitudes
  • Wise Woman – can share from her lived experience and inner wisdom
  • Priestess – facilitates a process where transformation can occur

As we recognise the Shadow form at play, we can meet it with tenderness and explore further.

These traits may show themselves as:

  • Indulger – takes pleasure in the other person’s struggle or pain
  • Fixer –  wants to fix “the problem”
  • Avoider – renders the other person’s experience void by dismissing, distracting or ignoring
  • Wounded Healer – sees the other person as broken or deficient in some way and that they can heal them
  • Validator – offer opinion or judgments in agreement
  • Adviser – gives unsolicited advice
  • Saviour – seeks to rescue

As I’ve shared, this is a framework. It is intended to be helpful. This isn’t about aspiring to be a perfect Space Holder.

In my experience, each of us will have a natural tendency towards one (or more) Shadow and Guardian aspect. I invite you to see it as a spectrum and where you are on that spectrum may change in different circumstances.

Having an awareness of these archetypes can helps us to understand where we can deepen our capacity to hold space for ourselves and others and also to recognise these in other people which can be useful when you’re collaborating with someone or facilitating groups!

When you do recognise a shadow aspect has played out, ask yourself:

  • Did I get a sense of value or worthiness from fixing / healing / saving?
  • Did I make assumptions based on relatively small amounts of information and felt that I had the right to share my opinion / advice?
  • Why did I think I knew best? (when holding space for someone else)
  • Was I attached to a certain outcome? What was that and why?

Often, the urge to fix, heal or save, is a reflection of our own fears, challenges, pain and unhealed trauma. It’s important to seek the appropriate professional support and guidance where we recognise this.

At the heart of my approach to holding space, is the belief that how we hold space for ourselves is reflected in how we hold space for others. If we can meet ourselves with presence, tenderness, compassion, courage, willingness, curiosity and love then we have a far deeper capacity to hold safer spaces for others.


People don’t need to be fixed or saved or rescued.
They need to know their sovereignty and how to access their own power.


PRESENCE is the immersion into deepening our capacity to hold space for ourselves so that we hold space for change. You can find all the details here. I would love to welcome you across the threshold.
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